The Black Lips Bring Rock and Roll to Mesopotamia by J. Levkowitz

On Saturday, September 29th, the Black Lips walked onto the stage of a small college in Erbil, Iraq. This show was a detour from their greater Middle East tour in Cairo, Amman, Dubai, and Lebanon.

Had the band members not already purchased tickets to northern Iraq during the summer, the show might not have happened due to difficulties between the band and the original venue. Fortunately, an avid fan offered the stage last minute at the Ala Center for the Atlanta-based band.

A crowd of roughly fifty sat on plastic chairs and listened to the band’s hour set, comprised mostly of the recent 2011 album Arabia Mountain (based on a mountain in Georgia). The band did not have proper amplifiers and the drummer beat a tambourine onto his lonely snare drum.

The stripped down sound fit the environment of a city that had never before witnessed an American band of such fervor. Several people walked out of the show after only a few seconds into Ian Saint Pe’s raw guitar solo.

The Black Lips in Erbil, Iraq (credit: J. Levkowitz/In Parentheses)

Everyone became more comfortable as the set progressed. More men entered and stood in the back. I broke out into my own frantic seizure of a dance, hoping others would join in. However, it was to no avail. Besides the steady stream of flash photography, all the spectators sat conservatively in their seats.

The highlight of the concert were three university students that had come very early to the show. They had never heard of the Black Lips, but they were studying English and were very excited to see the band. Although my fantasy of them throwing their hijabs at the band onstage did not come into fruition, they did softly tap their feet in rhythm to the catchy songs. And in a society where most of the women are expected to keep a stone-like face, this was certainly a breakthrough.

At the end of the set, the singer Cole Alexander thanked everyone in Kurdish and jumped off stage. Catching up with him after the show, he told me, “The tour has certainly been a learning experience.” They recently lost one show in Jordan due to an impromptu show earlier outside of Jerusalem.

We discussed the importance of the trailblazing Black Lips. As Western bands in the 70s and 80s paved the way for the typical world tour route in America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, it is inspiring to see new bands forming contacts in the Middle East to build up its Rock and Roll culture. The Red Hot Chili Peppers recently played in Lebanon and in Israel

Alexander spoke about the heavy interest in the region for metal, but he hoped to see more punk bands in the near future. He was open to another tour if the conditions in the future were ripe. And even though he said there was no real objective of the tour except for the band’s wanderlust, this concert provided cultural exposure to Iraqi people that had only previously experienced the American military presence. Thank you Black Lips for helping build up a new bridge in the region.

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